Scent moments. I can signal a sequence of events in my
life that are instantly recallable in the context of their
fragrances, that bring forth the character of those moments in a
startlingly clear evocation of that instant. Scent travels from the
moment to the mind in the gathering of those touches in time.
I think of the realm of the stories told, at campfire, in the
crackling night: wind blowing in from the sea, the scenting of
pine, the crushed and dried needles in the heated sand, the smoking
embers of the flame, casting whispers of fragrance that bring back
that experience in the forefront of the mind. And meanwhile, the
voice of the teller of tales.
Channel mist at sunrise, San Juan Archipelago, Washington.
(photo: Tim Girvin)
Scent story. In a way, it's always about that—the story
and the vocation of the legend making, one string of words on
another that frames in the imagination, a visualization of the
story being spun. But that narrative links to the nature of what
scent might be part of that presence—of the fumes of molecules that
grace the day or night in the recollection of that experience.
It is this bridge that is perhaps the most compelling link for
designers in thinking about the marvel of fragrance in the context
of experience—as designed, as sensed, as gathered—in the holism of
the spectacle. Fragrance—the layering of scents as a sequence of
complex “notes”—builds a kind of psychic bridge from what is around
the experiencer to what is being recalled. And, to the very nature
of design, this can be built.
Working in the past with accomplished noses—masters of the art
of the formulation of scents, layering sequences of literally
hundreds of delicate perfumed ingredients derived from a world of
plants and animal essences—I've had the chance to wander behind the
doors of the perfuming world. Not as an expert of scent and the
analyses of the emotionality of fragrance, but rather as a designer
pondering just how some “fume” might be told as a story and built
into the packaged voicing of that story. In studying the history of
perfume, in fragrance packaging for example, the art of scent,
story and visualization are powerfully intermixed, just like the
mystery of the aromas that they contain.
Lavender pyre, Decatur Island, Washington (left); and Dzong
offering stupa, Bhutan. (photos: Tim Girvin)
Pierre Bourdon, whom I met in Paris before he retired, was just
such a master at Fragrance Resource. For him, every scent was a
designed story. From the steely, marine fragrance notes he
innovated in Davidoff's Cool Water to the woody, smoked sexual
pulpiness of Shiseido's Féminité du Bois, strategies were written
to build on the nature of the creation of the scent structure to
fulfill the discipline of the brief and the tactical explication of
the telling. L'Artisan Parfumeur's master nose is Bertrand
Duchaufour, who speaks of each of his fragrances not as
amalgams of essential characters, but rather as studied—and
designed—considerations of place and what makes that place
miraculous. What is the story of place? His perfume Dzongkha, for
example, renders not only the mystical script and otherworldly
Himalayan language of Bhutan, but as well of the distinctive sense
of locale, made in the Buddhist temples and smoking incensed
hearths that fire the sentient environment in the Dzongs, or
monasterial temples and community centers, that these ancient
Scent design. Scent is place and memory—it is experience
recalled. Every scent, in the microscopic particulate nature of its
diffusion, is distinctive, unforgettable to those who are mindful,
informing a significant part of our experience. The memory is a
story, and to designers, the idea of linking story and experience
through formed visualization—from container to packaged expression,
from word to identity, from photography to patterning—reaches deep
into the darker, psychic place of scent embedded in our
recollections forever. Sensing, scent and sentience—all come from
the same Latin root: sentire, to feel.
As designers, that's where we live: generating the (e)motion of
feeling in the signals of message, form, place and storied
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Section: Inspiration -
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Section: Why Design -
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Section: Tools and Resources
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